Unrest in IHK
VIOLENCE revisited held Kashmir on Tuesday as Indian forces gunned down a Hizbul Mujahideen fighter in Srinagar. This follows the killing of another Kashmiri fighter, Riaz Naikoo, earlier this month in Pulwama. Sadly for the Kashmiri people, this cycle of bloodshed and humiliation is nothing new; in fact, the people of the occupied region have been putting up with it for the past several decades. The gun battle in which Indian forces killed Junaid Ashraf Sehrai, a business graduate-turned-fighter, lasted nearly 12 hours as security forces surrounded a neighbourhood in Srinagar’s old town. Residents say the Indian soldiers set houses on fire and looted jewellery from several residences under the cover of the operation.
The fact is Kashmiris are sick and tired of Indian oppression and are increasingly fighting back in order to stop India’s brutality. India has disfigured the region’s autonomous status, hatched a plan to engineer demographic changes, and has used even more brutal tactics when Kashmiris have objected to its high-handedness. Instead of quelling the insurgency, New Delhi’s callousness has further angered educated young Kashmiris, like Sehrai, Naikoo as well as Burhan Wani whose killing by the Indians in 2016 had sparked a wave of protests. Yet the Indian establishment seems to cling to the erroneous belief that its use of violence will dampen the Kashmiri desire for rights and dignity. Moreover, Indian adventurism along the LoC has raised temperatures with Pakistan, as a number of innocent people on this side of the line have lost their lives in cross-LoC barrages. New Delhi is playing a dangerous game, crushing Kashmiris in the occupied territory, and stoking tensions with Pakistan at a time when the Covid-19 pandemic is rattling the world.
Some voices have been raised against India’s brutality in held Kashmir. For example, the OIC has expressed concern over India’s tinkering with Kashmir’s domicile law, which would pave the way for non-locals to apply for domicile in the disputed region. This is, of course, part of New Delhi’s overall strategy to alter the demographics of IHK, continuing the condemnable project it initiated last year by scrapping Kashmir’s special status in India’s constitution. Furthermore, the lockdown of the region since August 2019 has added to the miseries of the local people. For example, the communications blockade has hampered the fight against the coronavirus in IHK, as India has blocked high-speed internet. Doctors say this has had a major impact on keeping in touch with patients, while patients in quarantine have also been unable to communicate with family members. As the world combines forces to combat Covid-19, the international community must put pressure on India to lift this inhuman blockade so that patients can get the care they need without hindrance. Otherwise, it will appear that the human rights of Kashmiris matter little to the self-declared global champions of freedom.
IN the run-up to Eid, there is often some unrest witnessed among workers. The Covid-19 pandemic added greater purpose and urgency to the chants by trade unions as they gathered on Tuesday to take out rallies in over 30 cities of Punjab amongst others. They represented exploited workers who face an uncertain future. The issues they raised are not new to those who make and operate the system. Throughout, the stories have been the same and only the faces of workers change as they continue to be recognised and dismissed as mere ‘industrial hands’. The rallies were organised by a conglomerate of various trade unions, and aimed to highlight the plight of those hit by the large-scale layoffs, cuts in and non-payment of salaries and pensions. A main protest theme of the meeting in Lahore was the ‘neglect’ of the working class by a ‘labour-hostile’ government. It was obvious that these protesters were not in a mood to be cajoled by the allowances the government had been promising those economically hit by the coronavirus. Also, the relentless prime ministerial reliance on the ghareeb or poor worker for his justification against a proper lockdown worth the name seems to have had little appeasing effect on those who live in dread of losing their livelihood.
Trade unions are in the habit of demanding more than what appears reasonable to employers and regulators. That, however, doesn’t take away from the reality of how labour — even the documented workforce — is absent from the general discussion on schemes for economic uplift. Worldwide, labour has been the worst hit economically by the pandemic. Among this group, Pakistani workers are likely to be at the bottom rung, given the fact that we are still a country where labour law violations are easy to conceal, and where the authorities routinely turn a blind eye to the wrongs committed by industrialists meaning to contribute to the ‘country’s economy’. The truth is that on immediate evidence, these 30-odd rallies have gone unnoticed officially. No spokesman has turned up to respond to the calls of these trade unionists. These labour leaders may be more deserving of an answer than opposition party politicians whose remarks receive a routine and loud retort from officialdom. By ignoring the issues raised by these workers, the government is only helping to intensify the feeling of exploitation and the sense of hatred against this exploitation.
ON Sunday night, many internet users across Pakistan found that they were unable to access Twitter, its video-streaming service Periscope, or the popular videoconferencing app Zoom for several hours. In a subsequent analysis of network data from that time, the internet freedom monitor Netblocks and Pakistan’s Digital Rights Foundation reported that the disruption was localised to Pakistan. The outage, which seemed to only specifically affect access to these particular platforms, led to much speculation about the cause of the disruption, and conjecture that it may have been done deliberately at a time when an online videoconference by those critical of state policies was also being aired via these services. The report concluded, “Sunday’s incident matches the characteristics of previous documented restrictions applied on grounds of national security or to prevent unrest.”
If it is indeed true that the outage, however brief, was deliberately caused, it is especially troubling in the context of feverish attempts in recent years to expand the state’s power to monitor and control social media usage in Pakistan — and, in turn, its users — the most recent example of which has been the controversial Citizen Protection (Against Online Harms) Rules. That the PTA has failed to provide an explanation despite repeated requests to do so by this paper as well as digital rights experts only compounds these concerns. These tendencies are utterly counterproductive to Pakistan’s interests. We have nothing to gain from a growing intolerance towards expression of dissent; or from eroding public trust in institutions through a lack of transparency and due process of the law; or — particularly at a time when online connectivity is the lifeline through which many business, educational and social activities are being sustained — to casually ignore internet users’ concerns of being abruptly cut off from the services they now rely heavily upon. Pakistan’s attitude towards internet governance must be enabling, not oppressive or opaque. Intentional or not, the irony that such an outage would happen on World Telecommunication and Information Society Day is not lost on anyone.